Outrage after former councillor insults chief executive online

Gareth Fairhurst
Gareth Fairhurst

A former councillor is facing a storm of protest after using an offensive comment about Wigan Council's chief executive online.

Gareth Fairhurst, who formerly represented Standish in the chamber as an independent, was condemned from all quarters for his post on Facebook against the town hall's top civil servant Donna Hall.

Wigan Council chief executive Donna Hall

Wigan Council chief executive Donna Hall

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He said that he was "sueing the bitch" on Facebook, a reference to papers lodged with the local authority for defamation against Bryn independent representative Coun Steve Jones.

After being taken to task on Twitter he then invited further outrage by discussing whether the word bitch was ever acceptable to use against a woman and using an infamous female serial killer as an example.

Mr Fairhurst faced heavy criticism and allegations of misogyny following the comment but has stood by his actions.

Ms Hall, meanwhile, thanked Wiganers for their support of her and said it was evidence of the kind of abuse high-profile women in public life regularly face.

She said: "Online hate is unacceptable and all the evidence shows women in public office receive the bulk of it. It’s nasty and personal.

"The former councillor, who still calls himself a councillor online, has compared me over the weekend to the mass murderer Rose West as well as a bitch and a poor excuse for a human being. Ironically he is taking legal action against the council for defamation.

"I’m so grateful for the outpouring of public support and I hope it gives everyone the confidence to stand up to online hate.”

Leader of Wigan Council, Coun David Molyneux, said: "We make no apology for calling out unacceptable online abuse targeting women.

"The last time we did this it raised the issue in the House of Commons.

"How can we expect young girls in the borough to aspire to be councillors, MPs or leaders of the future if degrading online insults are seen as the norm?

"The comment by the former councillor was offensive, derogatory and misogynistic. He then compounded it by insulting Donna again calling her a 'poor excuse for a human being'.

"We hope by raising this issue we will deter others from using hate-filled comments in the future."

Other public figures to slam Mr Fairhurst included Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Andrew Foster, Leigh MP Jo Platt and Greater Manchester's deputy mayor for policing, crime, criminal justice and fire Beverley Hughes.

Despite the storm of protest, though, Mr Fairhurst remained defiant, saying the backlash was due to his involvement in Coun Jones' court proceedings and denying he had done anything wrong with the language used.

He said: "It's not a swear word, it's not illegal, it's a descriptive word. I don't think anybody would say that word should never be used.

"They are trying to twist and manipulate it for their own ends to detract from the court case which they don't want people to talk about.

"It's a baseless allegation because someone doesn't like what I called her. I'm married, I've got a daughter, I've got a sister and many of my friends who are women have come out and supported me."